I’d previously stated that I like three things about “Born To Make You Happy”: its beat-based balladry, Britney’s unusually expressive vocals and that key change. I still like these things, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to justify to myself why I’m continually drawn back to its melodramatic charms. It is neither as sonically exciting or fascinatingly bizarre as much of the excellent pop music of the past few months, and Britney’s previous quality singles have both worked only in the context of initial impact, followed by diminishing returns.

Obviously then, I identify with this song somehow; and that’s scary, because as Tom pointed out in his review, there’s something really disturbing about “Born To Make You Happy”. The concepts of absolute devotion and complete emotional servitude sit uncomfortably with the large majority of us at the best of times, and Britney is young enough, small enough, but most of all girlish enough to make the idea quite sickening (too add insult to injury, Britney’s next album is tentatively titled “Oops… I Did It Again”). Certainly it doesn’t harm Reynolds’ sharp assessment that critical identification with Britney is tantamount to pedophilia.

But then, if listeners feel the instinctive need to distance themselves from this overbearingly emotional display, there’s also something bizarrely compelling about it, at least for me. The same reason I love Buffy The Vampire Slayer – the delight in watching the mundane stretch towards greatness – makes me want to applaud Britney, or her writers and producers, for making a pop song a construct to convey something so ambitious, so extreme. In essence, this is Britney’s ultimate manifesto, and it couldn’t be more at odds with the prevailing nature of disposable pop today.

You see, this song isn’t so much a declaration of love to an ex-boyfriend, or her slavering fifty year old fans. It’s really Britney saying “I think love is, or should be like this: if it isn’t perfect it’s terrible.” Love is an ideal (of course), and even if we feel it for someone else that doesn’t stop us from distinguishing between “reality love” – the love of relationships and marriages – and “ideal love”, which may not even be love at all so much as the belief that two people might become inextricably intertwined, unable to find the way out from eachother. It’s ideal love that teenagers and the lonely think about when they aren’t thinking about sex, because we’re not cynical enough or lucky enough to settle for anything less. It’s a puerile ideal – in real life we’re all far too independent and self-centered to want to dissolve ourselves in another person. It’s also selfish: this kind of love, even if reciprocal, would be so demanding, so utterly needy that the only candidate for it would be a clone of oneself. But if it’s puerile and selfish, it is still noble. We’ve been gifted with complex, powerful emotions, and it seems ashamedly small-minded to go through life living “safe” thoughts. Britney’s world might be scary, but it isn’t it correspondingly more alive? Don’t we all ultimately wish, if just for a day, or an hour, or a minute, that we could crash and burn into someone else’s psyche? Leave a mark indelibly on another human being, and receive in turn some imprint of that person upon ourselves, that changes us forever? Well, probably not, but it’s about as far as one can get from the ennervating monotony of the real world, where isolation isn’t so much a problem as a given, so the negatives can easily be brushed aside.

This undeniable urge is captured in two different lines in the song, each turning on the same heartbreaking melodic hook. “I don’t want to cry a tear for you, so forgive me if I do,” Britney sings, holding up another ideal – that love should always run counter to rational thought. We shouldn’t be able to control ourselves in love, just as we shouldn’t be able to pick our partners based on logical ideas of suitablity. Then, “If only you were here tonight,” she cajoles, “I know that we could make it right.” There’s a sharp ascent on the “we”, as if she’s gasping in pain at her own most desired fantasy. For Britney’s character within the song, reuniting with her lover is the equivalent of a self-destruct button – an end to all the agony in one final blast of soul-destroying oblivion. And though she may not actually mean it, she sings it like she does, and that’s more than enough for me. Suddenly it seems that nearly all my favourite songs have some element of this obsession bubbling under the surface. I see in “Born To Make You Happy” the same fundamental message of The Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over”, or in a different way Amira’s “My Desire”, or Kate Bush’s “The Hounds of Love”, or Kitchen Of Distinction’s “On Tooting Broadway Station”, or any number of songs that have quietly resided in my collection, unaware of the common link they all share.

My friend David complains that we are surrounded by media (film, television and music, although not The Media, whose concept is love is usually quite sanitised) that tells us that love is this primal force that swings our lives mercilessly between agony and ecstasy. “It stuffs us up” he says, because it creates unrealistic concepts of what love should be. But the magnetic attraction these larger-than-life characters and their all-consuming passions hold over us tells us more about ourselves, and how we would like to be, than any “gritty” drama or down-to-earth punk holler. So, ultimately, yes I do empathise with “Born To Make You Happy”, because I secretly share some of it’s ideals – ones we might never see, or never want to see, enacted in public, but for a couple of wistful minutes, Britney will do just fine.

Tim Finney, April 2000